The recent rash of college campus shootings has overshadowed the ongoing violence that has become an unwelcome addition to the nation’s primary, intermediate, and secondary classrooms. In some urban areas, violence in schools is so common that children have become somewhat desensitized to its presence and may no longer view violence as something that should actually be rare within the educational environment. This speaks volumes about our public school system, but the problem may be even worse than imagined.
· One Cleveland, Ohio elementary school classroom erupted in violence when students, unhappy with a substitute teacher’s disciplinary practices, bombarded that teacher with books and other objects, sending the teacher to the hospital with minor injuries.
· One six-year-old boy in Flint, Michigan shot and killed a female classmate.
· One Indiana second grader used his shoe to pummel a teacher.
· One kindergartener in Philadelphia attacked a pregnant teacher, punching her in the stomach.
Although the chances that any one child will be the direct victim of in-school violence is still relatively small, the chances that he or she will witness such violence is nearly 100%. And the reality is that such violence has progressed from what was once the common schoolyard scuffle to altercations between students, students and teachers, and students and security that may send one or more of the participants to the hospital for treatment – or worse.
While some experts argue that school violence has always been a problem, especially in urban school districts, others insist that the problem is becoming more pronounced, particularly in the lower grades. Regardless, the number of assaults on children and adults in the nation’s schools has reached what can only be called epidemic proportions. When our children cannot attend school in a reasonably safe environment, education suffers and childhood is sacrificed.
Competition and conflict between peers has led to some minor physical altercations throughout the ages. Perhaps what is most alarming is that not only are children attacking each other with increasing ferocity, but they are attacking the adults who are there to teach them as well. To many, this complete lack of regard for authority signifies a much larger underlying problem.
Undoubtedly, children are bringing significant stressors into the classroom. Single-parent households, abusive home environments, economic hardships, and mild disabilities are only a few of the factors that haunt our children even during the hours when they should be concentrating on education. Yet, it can be argued that these factors have always been present and children were not shooting their classmates or stabbing their teachers.
It makes sense to adjust some of the present school violence statistics for the “overkill” factor. Suspensions for assault have skyrocketed within almost all of the nation’s school systems, even at the lower grades. For instance, in a two-year period, Minnesota suspended more than 4,000 kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders statewide. News reports of suspensions for minor infractions of zero-tolerance policies abound, but we must remain aware that these suspensions and disciplinary actions are understandably skewing the statistics a bit higher than they should be. This, in no way however, should minimize the fact that in-school violence is a very real and growing problem within the nation’s academic environments.
Obviously, parents cannot keep their children out of school. Many schools have implemented programs that teach children about bullying and about what is considered appropriate behavior. Still other programs concentrate on emphasizing the rights of others and encouraging a school-wide atmosphere of respect. Yet, most experts agree that, without the help of parents, schools, the children who attend them, and the adults who work within them, will be forced to deal with violence as a daily standard.
As helpful as many anti-violence programs are for students and faculty, children need to also be taught how to avoid situations that may become violent and how to protect themselves from becoming victims of school violence. First and foremost, the zero tolerance policy of non-violence that exists within schools must also extend to the home. Children who are permitted violent outbursts at home, are likely to continue such behavior in other settings as well.
Apparently, school suspensions, expulsions, and other current disciplinary practices are not working. Therefore, while school administrations consider how to deal with school violence, children must be taught how to recognize a potentially explosive situation in order to avoid the fallout.
School violence is not cool, funny, or acceptable. Children who believe this and speak out against violence are more likely to avoid violent situations. Children who fail to remain firm in this belief and who participate in violence because of peer pressure are more likely to be caught up in violent situations. Peer pressure is a mighty sword for adults and children. Therefore, children who exert positive peer behavior can have a significant effect on their schoolmates.
Be a tattle tale. Children are often faced with the difficult decision of telling on another student who may be considering violence, who may have brought a weapon to school, or who may be behaving in an unacceptable or threatening manner. Early on, we teach children that being a tattle tale is annoying and undesirable. Additionally, peer pressure teaches children that it’s not cool to inform adults of another child’s activities. However, all bets are off when it comes to school violence. Children need to be taught that the repercussions of withholding information from teachers and other adults of another child’s unsafe activities can lead to irreversible consequences for that child and those around him. Adults are often kept in the dark about situations that are preventable. Communication between school students, parents, and school officials is crucial for keeping schools as safe as possible for everyone.
Listening. All threats of violence should be taken seriously; especially in today’s current environment. Children and adults must work together to end school violence. Children must feel as if their school administrators are not only willing to listen to their concerns but that they take those concerns seriously. When school violence erupts, children often know beforehand. Therefore it is imperative for every adult to build trust through communication with students in order for everyone to feel safe in school.